Who Are Best Options to Boost Ravens’ Pass Rush?
Now that Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the top edge rusher on the free agent market has signed with the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens’ options for acquiring help at the position via free agency are limited.
Then again, it’s possible the best options are already in the building.
Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw believes Matthew Judon and rookie Jaylon Ferguson could be a “fearsome tandem” this season for a team that lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency. Judon has 19 sacks in three seasons with the Ravens, including 15 over the past two seasons. Ferguson, who was drafted in the third round, is the all-time sacks leader in FBS history.
“With Judon on one side and Ferguson on the other, the Ravens may have found themselves the best duo at edge rusher since Suggs and Elvis Dumervil dominated the NFL back in 2014,” Bradshaw wrote. “The idea of Matt Judon and Jaylon Ferguson together is certainly an exciting one. Should both players reach their potential, the Ravens may have found themselves the building blocks needed to remake their pass rushing core quicker than anyone could’ve predicted. Time will tell how these two will fair, but for now Ravens Flock should be eager to see what these two can do together in 2019.”
Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz suggested that Ansah -- who visited the Ravens in late April -- signing elsewhere could be a blessing in disguise given the presence of Judon and Ferguson on the roster.
“It’s easy to see why the Ravens didn’t chuck a bundle of cash at Ezekiel Ansah,” Kasinitz wrote. “The former Lions Pro Bowler has a shoulder injury that could keep him sidelined through the first month of the 2019 season, according to reports, and a desperate free agent splash would’ve gone against Baltimore’s offseason plan of generating future financial flexibility and building a core that can grow together.
“But perhaps the news of Ansah joining Seattle will force Ravens fans to more seriously ponder the viability of Baltimore’s in-house options. Matt Judon’s a bona fide starter entering his fourth NFL season and NCAA FBS all-time sacks leader Jaylon Ferguson arrives as a polished third-round rookie.”
Outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams both enter their third seasons with the Ravens as wild cards.
“The Ravens took Bowser in the second round of the 2017 draft and scooped Williams a round later, but neither has played well enough through two NFL seasons to drum up much confidence,” Kasinitz wrote. “They combined for 2.5 sacks last year.
“Bowser might be in line to start if the Ravens don’t sign another pass rusher, while Williams will need to impress in training camp to secure a role as a rotation rusher. Things would be a lot simpler for the Ravens if one of those two outside linebackers emerged as a steady contributor in 2019.”
As for the pass rushers remaining in free agency, “with Ansah off the market, there’s no recent Pro Bowler twiddling his thumbs and waiting for Baltimore to make an offer,” Kasinitz wrote.
“Nick Perry, whom the Green Bay Packers released in March, is still available,” Kasinitz wrote. “The 29-year-old battled injury troubles in recent season after piling up 11 sacks in 2016, and he’s spent his career rushing off the edge in a 3-4 scheme. And now that signings won’t count toward the compensatory pick formula, Baltimore has reason to consider bringing younger pass rushers like ex-Bronco Shane Ray and ex-Jet Kevin Pierre-Louis into the fold.
“A handful of available free agents — Perry, Ray and Pierre-Louis included — have been more productive in the NFL than Bowser and Williams. Still, the two rising third-year players have familiarity in Baltimore’s system and remain on cheap rookie deals for the next two years.”
Projections for Ravens in 2019
The Ravens are projected to win 8.5 games this season and have a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs, 30 percent chance to win the AFC North and 2 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, which is based on 10,000 simulations of the season.
The FPI has hopped aboard the Cleveland Browns’ bandwagon. Cleveland is projected to win 8.8 games and has a 52 percent chance of winning the AFC North, 36 percent chance of making the playoffs and 3 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.
The FPI’s forecast for the Pittsburgh Steelers (8.5, 46 pct., 31 pct., 2 pct.) is slightly better than that of the Ravens.
Are Ravens Being Overlooked?
All simulations, projections and predictions aside, are the Ravens being overlooked? That was one of the “burning questions” recently posed on NFL Network.
“Didn’t they win the division last year?” NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara asked rhetorically. “I don’t know if anybody in that division has figured out how to stop Lamar Jackson. Yet they just added Marquise Brown. Any receiver named Hollywood’s bound to bring some excitement, and I think with him in the slot, all of the sudden that RPO stuff becomes even more electric.”
Meanwhile, Nate Burleson of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” continues to extol the virtues of Jackson and the Ravens offense, which he said will be the most entertaining in the NFL this season.
“[Lamar] was amazing last year, and then they add in Mark Ingram,” Burleson said. “We forget how strong and angry of a runner he is. … [The Ravens] are just getting started. I think people assume that Lamar Jackson isn’t going to pass the ball this year, and I will tell you right now you are wrong. He’s going to light up the skies and torch the ground like he did last year.”
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein made compensatory pick projections for every team for the 2020 NFL Draft.